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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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A Perfect Catalyst

Posted on April 24, 2017 in Building the Wall


A note from Forum Artistic Director Michael Dove on the decision to produce BUILDING THE WALL.


Over a year ago, as we were choosing our 2016/17 season, we could sense that the upcoming presidential election would be unlike any other. It was already a part of nearly every conversation in person, online, and in the media. We started to look for scripts that reflected the major themes and polarizing debates amongst the campaigns. Talk of a proposed Muslim ban led us to choose I Call My Brothers for our September show. The conversation about progress in women’s rights as a woman became the first major party candidate inspired the repertory production of What Every Girl Should Know and Dry Land. And then we decided to try an experiment and leave the final slot in our season undecided, allowing us to choose a play that would be responsive to what was happening in the world post-election and post-inauguration. What we didn’t anticipate was just how chaotic and unsure the nation would feel in 2017.


Choosing that final show was the most difficult programming decision I’ve ever faced. Reading script after script, it felt impossible to find the right story that would address the flood of information that we have had to absorb in these last few months. And then we were sent this new play by Robert Schenkkan called Building the Wall. In the tradition of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, here was a piece of speculative fiction that depicted a possible near future for the country under a Trump administration. It felt like the perfect catalyst for the difficult conversations we must face as citizens when it comes to how we secure our borders while retaining our national values and humanity. It’s a perfect fit for both our mission to spark conversation and for our season of responsive stories. It was a no-brainer.

Often, a new play will go through a development process of anywhere from 18 months to three years, but here was a playwright daring us to act with immediacy and stage the script as quickly as possible. Perhaps in these fast-moving political times, we’ll need to find new ways to create work on shorter schedules so that the plays are connected to the urgency of the present moment. As we’ve learned with our Forum (Re)Acts series of new works, the energy of a piece that directly addresses a topic still in the morning’s headlines is unlike anything else. And to create a space for our community to gather and talk about how we move forward towards a better tomorrow is absolutely a role we feel theatre can play.

We are thrilled to produce Building the Wall at Arena Stage from April 27th until May 7th, before its move back to Forum's home in Silver Spring May 18th through the 27th. To produce this work in the home of Zelda Fichandler’s beautiful regional theatre vision is a great blessing.

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We Must Not Cede Our Moral Authority

Posted on April 15, 2017 in Building the Wall

Playwright Robert SchenkkanA note from "Building the Wall" playwright Robert Schenkkan (pictured left) on his inspiration and why it's so important to stage this piece in the nation's capital.

I wrote Building the Wall in late October before the election, but even then it seemed to me that important lines had been crossed in our political system. The naked appeals to racism, nativism, and violence by the then Republican candidate were often dismissed by nervous commentators, and even more nervous Republican political leaders, as just “words.” “He doesn’t really mean it,” we were told. Four months into the new administration and clearly he means it. More worrisome is the manner in which Congressional members who could not hide their distaste for the Candidate are now lining up behind the President.

Let me be very clear, the issues here are not Republican vs. Democrat, or even Liberal vs. Conservative. What we are witnessing is a concerted attack on fundamental American values: separation of powers, freedom of speech, freedom of press, independent judiciary, etc. These are the cornerstones of our democracy and the reason our Republic has succeeded so well for over 200 years. What has happened is Congressional representatives have temporarily “shelved” their allegiance to the Constitution in order to embrace a once in a lifetime opportunity to exercise complete power. We have seen how such temporary moral transactions played out in the past and the results were not pretty. 

None of this is new, of course; the Authoritarian playbook is well known. Create a constant state of crisis that only a “strong” leader can solve. Encourage fear, divide the populace and scapegoat racial or religious minorities and immigrants. Smear your opponents as unpatriotic and attack the Press as “Enemies of the People.” The question, of course, is not so much what the President will do but how all of us – citizens and our representatives - will respond?

This is why it was so important for me to see Forum Theater’s production of Building the Wall produced here in Washington, DC, at the Arena Stage, not two miles from the White House. The vision of the future imagined in this play is reasonable and, indeed, logical. The only thing that stands in its way will be moral resistance by ordinary citizens. This requires two things. First, we must recognize that what is happening right now is not normal. It is human nature to avert our eyes from what is unpleasant, but we must not avoid or deny the reality which is unfolding. Second, moving forward we will all of us be asked directly or indirectly to collaborate with or support what is happening. We must not cede our moral authority to the State. This is critical. The decisions we make must be predicated on clear moral values, not political expediency.

This theatrical argument for individual conscience versus government authority is not new; Aeschylus made the case for it 2,000 years ago in Antigone. Contemporary writers like Arthur Miller, Athol Fugard, Lynn Nottage, and others have frequently and eloquently made the same appeal. This is necessary because the Authoritarian virus never completely dies out. The only cure, then and now, is alert, responsible citizenry.

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How Do We Empower Our Girls?

Posted on April 9, 2017 in #NastyWomenRep

After the Sunday, April 9th Talk Tank, moderator Michael Feldman reflected on the conversation.

Providing accurate reproductive health information is critical, but supportive adult mentors and positive peer networks really make the difference in helping our girls grow into successful women. That was one of the main takeaways from our #NastyWomenRep Talk Tank on Sunday, April 9. The session, held after What Every Girl Should Know, featured Pamela Jones, President and CEO of Crittenton Services, Emily Crofoot, Board Treasurer of DC Abortion Fund, and Devan Shea, ‎Senior Policy and Partnerships Associate at The Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).  

Forum’s Talk Tank is designed to explore the policy issues underpinning our plays through conversations between policy experts and audiences. This Talk Tank started with the question posed by both Dry Land and What Every Girl Should Know: “how and why are we failing our girls in equipping them to celebrate their own sexuality and control their own bodies so they can shape their own futures and grow into thriving adults?”  

When asked about reactions to the play, all of our panelists felt that the poignant and tragic situations faced by the characters in What Every Girl Should Know are similar to challenges faced by girls in the Washington area today. Panelists and audience members discussed the fact that girls do not feel safe in their schools and in their communities in the D.C. area; this feeling is especially prominent among undocumented young people and those in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods both in D.C. and the suburbs.  Communities with high poverty rates also have higher incidents of violence of all kinds.  In fact, the panel noted that Montgomery County has the country’s highest number of unaccompanied minors.  

The discussion also underlined that society does know what to do to help vulnerable girls – and shared evidence of successes achieved by young women.  Ms. Jones, Ms. Crofoot, and Ms. Shea all stressed that girls need to be safe, physically and emotionally.  They described what their organizations are doing to provide girls (and all young people) with information and access to reproductive health services, and to offer emotional and community support. But everyone agreed that much more needed to be done in order to meet the growing need, especially given the threats to these services posed by changing Federal and state government policies.   One key intervention is giving teens access to consistent, caring, and dependable adult mentors – the critical support that the characters in Dry Land and What Every Girl Should Know lack.  

Throughout the conversation, we returned to the compelling need to achieve equal rights for women and girls.  Our speakers also pointed to the role of men and boys as allies, and stressed that rapid progress toward gender equality ultimately holds the key to reducing the threat of gender-based violence and fostering strong, confident identities in girls and women.  

In many ways, this Tank Talk conversation tracked the long arc and many barriers to achieving gender equity - as framed by the #NastyWomenRep from Margaret Sanger in 1914 in Every Girl to any high school in today’s America in Dry Land.   

Want to learn more? We encourage you to check out the organizations represented by our speakers:

Crittenton Services of Greater Washington empowers teen girls to overcome obstacles, make positive choices, and achieve their goals.

DC Abortion Fund makes grants to pregnant people in the DC area who cannot afford the cost of an abortion.

The Center for Health and Gender Equity advances gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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"Sweden's Closet Racists"

Posted on September 14, 2016 in I Call My Brothers

The New York Times Op-Ed by I Call My Brothers playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri in response to the aftermath of the 2010 car bombing and suicide bombing in Stockholm. This essay led to the creation of his script for Brothers.

Credit: Ekta

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PILLOWTALK: An Interview with Maboud Ebrahimzadeh

Posted on March 23, 2016 in Season 12
The talented DC favorite and Forum Ensemble member -- and currently playing Katurian Katurian Katurian in our production of The Pillowman shares some words with us in an interview with Audience Engagement Coordinator, Natalie Piegari. 
NATALIE: You are an actor and writer, among other things. What role does storytelling play in your life? Why tell stories? 
MABOUD: I believe that we are all storytellers in some way. I actually recently released a podcast episode about storytelling (Lights Up: The DC Theatre Podcast - Old Works, Different Takes, New Lives). If you go back, like waaaaay back, stories are how we taught each other how to hunt, and gather, and so on. But as we have evolved its become less about survival and more about understanding I think. Empathy, to begin with, is critical in our experiences as humans, and vital in our growth as individuals and as a society. 
I think that stories offer us a way to understand aspects of our daily lives that we otherwise wouldn’t understand by providing a context in which to understand them, and enough distance to see the relation of a story to ourselves. 
So in a way, it is a survival thing, just not in the immediate sense of when we were decoding cave paintings of how to hunt buffalo.
Beyond all of that, it’s a communal experience, storytelling. It’s a way to connect with something or someone outside of yourself.
NATALIE: What is the role of the theatre artist in serving as a vehicle for stories? 
MABOUD: I think it is very much that, to serve as a vehicle for the story. Generally speaking, Theatre Artists, like good design, get out of the way of the story. That’s not to say that there isn’t artistry in the work we do, there is, but it all serves the work that is being presented. The story is trying to communicate something, we theatre artists help make it happen. We deliver the story to the audience. 
Now of course, each production will be unique in the way it tells the story, thus adding another layer. In this case, you’re not just seeing The Pillowman, you’re seeing Forum Theatre’s production of The Pillowman, which carries with it the perspectives and ideas of the director Yury Urnov, myself, and the whole production team, and our interpretation. In effect, you’ll be seeing The Pillowman through our lens.
NATALIE: Why tell stories like the ones Katurian tells? Or, stories like the play PILLOWMAN?
MABOUD: Why tell stories at all I suppose. This is a difficult one. Perhaps I’m not the right person to answer this as I am currently very much steeped in the notion that a story doesn’t need to “say things” to be a good story but, not everything needs to have a goal or purpose or an answer to the question why. Sometimes the best response to the question of ‘why’ is simply ‘why not’.
I think the play The Pillowman illustrates the subject of censorship and personal responsibility in an intriguing way. There’s the conversation of violence on television but there are plenty of violent books out there as well, the Bible being one of many. So I think it’s easy to draw a hard and fast rule about these things and feel better about where we stand, when the truth is violence doesn’t make us nearly as uncomfortable as uncertainty and ambiguity do. Uncertainty and ambiguity in the face of morality, a morality that inevitably changes and morphs with society. As does truth.
NATALIE: Are stories, particularly allegorical ones, also supposed to be ethically upright and morally unambiguous? 
MABOUD: No. I don’t think a story has any obligations to be any single thing at all, allegorical or not. Otherwise, you’d know how every story ends after finding out the main conflict. Allegory is basically an extended metaphor or a complete narrative where in characters and events often symbolize much larger ideas. If the devil is in the details, then ambiguity is the devil’s playground. And that I find much more interesting. You learn more outside of your comfort zone than in. So if a story only lives inside that comfort zone, then I don’t really see the point.
NATALIE: What does this production say that others do not? 
MABOUD: I’m not sure about other productions, but I can say that one thing I think is very unique about Yury’s interpretation and presentation of this play sets up a sense of complicity on the part of the audience. I wouldn’t call it an interactive piece but it is more immersive than any other productions I’ve heard of. Some of our audience members have found it more affecting than others and for them, it enhanced the themes. 
As a person who has done a fair amount of political and performance activism, I think one of the things it nods at is something Haile Selassie said, “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

NATALIE: Have you ever felt censored as an artist -- or in life? 
MABOUD: Absolutely. As an Iranian living in a post-9-11 America, it’s a fact of life. Discrimination is a form of censorship. Prejudice is a form of censorship. Racism is a form of censorship. Beyond the obvious ways these things have played their parts in my everyday life, the more insidious ways it has effected my artistic expression has to do with the nature of how American theatre companies handle casting which is far from equitable. 
NATALIE: What will you take away from playing Katurian in this particular production of The Pillowman
MABOUD: Well, Katurian is a bucket-list character that I never thought I’d be given a chance to play (due to the aforementioned casting… issues) so there’s that for starters. Honestly, this is such a wildly different approach to the play that it’s not even the same character that I read on the page the very first time I read the play years ago. I can only describe this experience as a tapestry of feelings, full of surprises, scares, discoveries, mischief, and joy.
NATALIE: Two truths and a lie, please!
English is the third language I learned to speak.
I am ambidextrous. 
People called me Mike for several years.
Natalie Ann Piegari (@nataliepiegari), Audience Engagement Coordinator
Natalie is a DC-based playwright, arts administrator and actor with a BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland. Plays she has written include Safe as Houses, The Funeral of Casey B. Collins, Left/Right, Sunday at St. Jude’s, Trash, the Knight’s Tale in Pointless Theatre Company’s production of Canterbury, Monster Match in Rorschach Theatre's Fall 2014 Klecksography: Haunting Monsters, and Unbound as part of University of Maryland's Alumni Commissioning Project at the NextNOW Festival. Her plays have been performed, workshopped and read at the University of Maryland, the Kennedy Center, and Mobtown Players in Baltimore. She founded and facilitates Bridge Club: A Writer's Collective, a writer's group that meets monthly. Upcoming: Normal/Magic, a fantastical double-feature, at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. @nataliepiegari
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